Aviation Appreciation

DE18EC16-532D-42AA-A67A-4BFB4068CAB2This is not the blog post I intended to write. I originally planned to outline all the things that avgeeks can do to try to cope with Severe Aviation Deficiency (aka S.A.D) brought about by the current pandemic. I may still write that post eventually. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t want aviation subsitutes. I want real airplanes and I want them RIGHT NOW.

I know, I know. I’m being selfish and silly and maybe a bit juevenile. But as I’ve written before, aviation is more than just a passing interest. It’s a passion. It’s therapy. It’s a community. And I’m REALLY missing all of that.

70F3550F-086E-4E78-8740-F6CE7B1D61F3If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile then you may recall that my mother passed away last year. I still miss her a lot. Then a few weeks ago my brother’s wife had a massive stroke. She collapsed suddenly and had to be life-flighted to a hospital for brain surgery. She survived – a miracle in itself – but she’s facing a very long road to recovery. I’ve been helping my brother with his blog, which he is using to keep friends and family informed.

4DB6968B-0768-4B23-ACC9-DBD3DF689890So you see, I’ve been in dire need of a little aviation therapy. Unfortunately, I’m not at the office these days so the only planes I see are those that happen to fly over my back yard. Then I got an email with two small words that brightened my whole week: military charters. TWO of them! A B767 AND a B777 – planes we rarely get to see. Better still, they’re being flown by an airline that rarely visits. This, my friends, was just what the doctor ordered!

But would I be able to catch both flights? After all, I’m working from home so I can’t just take a break and go upstairs for a few minutes. I need at least half an hour to drive to the airport, park and get into position. As luck would have it, the B767 arrived on a Friday evening. It was delayed until well after I had finished work for the day, so I had no trouble getting there in time to see it.

5271AFF1-74D5-4702-A462-63A676D2EEDFThe B777 on the other hand, was much more of a challenge. It was originally scheduled for a Saturday arrival, which would have been great. Then they pushed it back to Thursday morning. Noooooo! Not good! But… a B777! In my nearly six years at the airport I’ve never seen a B777 there. I did NOT want to miss it. What’s an avgeek to do?

I did the only thing I could think of: I took time off work so I could spend time at the office. I know – that sounds completely ridiculous. (Thanks pandemic!) But hey, I did what I had to do. And it was soooo worth it – not just for the airplane (which was fantastic) but for the time I got to spend around other spotters. Thankfully, it is easy to watch airplanes and still maintain an appropriate distance from others.

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A spotter and his dad.

Actually, I was surprised how many people were there, including a number of younger spotters I had never met before. Several parents and siblings had also come along. There were so many faces peering over the wall of the parking garage that it caught the attention of some members of the Airport Operations Department. After the 777 parked, they came upstairs to greet the spotters and talk to them about possible careers in Operations. How cool is that!? I am SO GLAD I work for an airport that appreciates and encourages a passion for aviation!

So, am I feeling better now? Yes! It makes me happy to know that there are still cool airplanes and interesting liveries to see. And if having more free time during the pandemic has encouraged new avgeeks, then that’s a silver lining that makes life’s challenges a little easier to bear. 0004CA7E-79F8-40CD-972A-F03B3C120F0E

Five years!

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December 1, 2019 marked five years since I started working for the airport. That’s right – I’ve been running around like a kid in a candy store for five whole years now. How is that even possible?  I knew I was going to love working in aviation, but I didn’t anticipate how much I was going to fall in love with the airport itself. And I never dreamed that I would get to see and do as much as I have.

FullSizeRender (87)ATC

I have always wanted to sneak my way into an ATC tower. This probably explains why the FAA added another set of “No Trespassing” signs around the tower fence right after I started my job. To my surprise, however, in the last five years I’ve visited all four towers at the three airports where I work plus the tower at Oshkosh. ATC towers are every bit as cool as I thought they would be.  The only thing cooler than the towers?  The TRACON! I’m still shocked that they not only let me in, but showed me around and explained what they were doing.

Being the avgeek that I am, I bring my scanner to work every day so I can listen when I’m plane spotting during my breaks. I sometimes listen to Live ATC at my desk too –  I just really like knowing what is going on. At this point I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of ATC communications dealing with all kinds of scenarios in all kinds of weather. Some of the most memorable conversations have also been the most amusing, like the pilot who threatened to do donuts on the uncontrolled ramp and another who was afraid of his 666 squawk code and requested a new one.

IMG_3142Airport Vehicles

Airport ground vehicles for the win! Who knew they were so cool?  From belt loaders to tugs to baggage trolleys and deice trucks – I’m a fan. The really crazy thing is how many I’ve been allowed to examine up close.  I’ve been able to sit in a snow plow and a fire truck, gotten to take a close look at a deicing rig and I’ve ridden around in broom truck.  I haven’t driven a stairs truck yet (the coolest of all airport vehicles), but I’ve sat behind the wheel and that’s a start!

Airplanes!

I’m not going to lie – being around airplanes every day is awesome. It doesn’t matter how many take-offs and landings I’ve seen – flying is still magic. I knew I’d see a lot of RJs and 737s around, but I had no idea I’d also get to see the occasional B767 and A330 as well.  Plus I’ve seen an incredible assortment of military airplanes including T-38s,  A10s, F18s, KC135s,  and C130s.  I’ve even seen Airforce One on multiple occasions. I also didn’t anticipate how much I was going to fall in love with business aviation.  Gulfstreams, Globals, Falcons… they stop me in my tracks every time I see them because they are just so darn gorgeous.

IMG_5307Really BIG Airplanes!

When I accepted the job with the airport authority I was excited to be working at a passenger airport, however I was even more excited to be affiliated with a cargo airport.  Why?  Because 747s!  And 777s!  And Antonovs!  There is ALWAYS something interesting to see.  On my very first visit I got to stand on the ramp and watch an Emirates 777 land and then taxi over to be unloaded. I’ve gotten up close and personal with an An124 more than once now.  Oh yes, I LOVE big planes!

Missed Approaches and other “Emergencies”

The first time I saw an airplane go around it was fascinating.  Five years later I’ve seen dozens of missed approaches I have to say… they are STILL really fascinating. They happen for all kinds of reasons, most of them entirely mundane.  Same with aborted take-offs.  I’ve seen several and they were far less dramatic than I expected.  I have also witnessed several emergency landings over the years.  They’re a bit more intense, but thanks to the efforts of ATC, ARFF, Airport Ops and the pilots, they all ended smoothly and uneventfully.

XLBSE1167Favorite Experience

It is hard for me to single out a favorite moment from the past five years because there have been so many.  As a general rule, the coolest experiences happen out on the airfield.  That’s where all the action is.  It’s also where the ground support vehicles hang out.  And it’s where the airplanes are!  If I absolutely HAD to pick a favorite, it would be the winter I trained to assist Ops with managing the flow of traffic into the deice pad.  I got to drive around on the ramp in an ops vehicle and talk to airplanes and ATC on the radio. I mean seriously –  it doesn’t get much cooler than that!  It was a mild winter so I never got signed off to manage the pad by myself but who knows – maybe one of these days I’ll get another chance.

IMG_5310 (2)On the Wish List

What would I like to do that I haven’t done yet?  Well I still haven’t driven a snow plow or gone out with the airfield team during a snow event. I’d really love to go up in the bucket of a deice rig just once.  Of course driving a stairs truck remains a goal. And I still really, really want to ride around on the baggage belt. However, I’ve recently added a new item to my wish list: making an airport-wide page. If you ever find yourself wandering through the terminal and you hear someone paging Captain Oveur to the white courtesy phone… let’s just say I’ll deny all knowledge.

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The Magic Avgeek Detector

 

AA92CBF6-7CB4-42C1-89C5-74C715FF0A71One thing I learned early on at my job is that you don’t have to be an aviation enthusiast to work at an airport. In fact, most of the people I work with, while very talented and quite passionate about what they do, aren’t at all interested in airplanes. And that’s OK. But I know there have to be avgeeks hiding out somewhere – the challenge has been finding them.

Even people who on the surface might seem to be interested in aviation, actually aren’t. The first time I saw a P-51 while at work I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I was practically jumping up and down as I watched it taxi out. In fact, I was so excited that I couln’t help exclaiming to a woman who was standing nearby, “ Look! It’s a Mustang!”  As she backed away from me with a confused expression I realized she wasn’t there for the airplanes. She clearly thought I was nuts.

3257F394-B710-4B15-B95C-2C62F9AD184EOver time I pretty much gave up on the idea of tracking down other airport avgeeks. But all that changed last summer in an unexpected way. Did I stumble across a magic device for detecting aviation lovers? Well… kind-of. And what, you ask, is the secret to unveiling hidden avgeeks? An A220 lanyard! Who’d have guessed!

You may recall that last summer at Oshkosh Airventure I got the opportunity to tour the A220, formerly known as the C-Series. The plane is the latest from Bombardier and was caught up in a bit of drama involving a legal challenge from Boeing and a partnership with Airbus (hence the name change). This, in turn, focused quite a bit of extra attention on the plane. As part of the tour I was given a lanyard, which I immediately started wearing at work. Soon thereafter the conversations started:

CEAAAEA9-52A5-4384-A257-3D01562B5E5CHave you seen the A220?

Why yes, I have. Up close and personal. And it is quite lovely. The cockpit is gorgeous – modern and clean. I could have spent hours asking, “Ooooh! What does THIS button do?” I think EAA may have warned Airbus about me because they quickly moved me along into the cabin, where I proceeded to sit in as many seats as possible.

Is the A220 going to be flying to this airport?

Sadly, no. At least not right now. This is not from lack of trying on my part. I wish airlines would start consulting me about these things!

32AB20D5-E4DD-4271-8952-20B4FD56CCF1Do You Work For Delta?

This question took me by surprise until I remembered that Delta ordered several of them and, in fact, is the first US carrier to put them into service. Of course I had to explain that I do not work for Delta, but I’ve been pestering as many of my friends at Delta as possible about sending the plane our way.

Cool lanyard! Where did you get it?

This question came from a Delta gate agent. I told him I got it at Oshkosh and unfortunately I didn’t get any extras. But I’d be happy to give him mine if he can convince his employer to start flying them to our little corner of the midwest!

8B53649A-3769-4521-A3D7-FC673C567528A220, eh? My airline ordered a bunch of them but won’t be flying them.

This statement came from a pilot at Republic Airlines, which puzzled me a bit. After some digging I discovered that Republic did, in fact, place an order with Bombardier. However the order was later removed.

Through the lanyard I’ve not only uncovered some avgeeks hidden amongst my coworkers, but I’ve gotten to chat with pilots, ground crew, gate agents and others who I might not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. I love it! Sadly, now that the A220 has entered service it will not remain a conversation piece much longer. The hunt will be on for a new lanyard to wear. B797 anyone?

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The Tower, The TRACON, and Me, Oh My!

36062608_UnknownI’ve got a thing for ATC towers. Who doesn’t, right? They’ve got the best view in the world! I’ve been staring longingly up at the tower at my airport since I started working there, wishing that I could get inside. I think they are aware of this because they keep adding more and more “no trespassing” signs along the fence.

Taking the hint, I’ve turned my attention elsewhere. There are three other towers under the jurisdiction of the airport authority, and I’ve visited all three. I’ve also managed a visit to the ramp tower at CLT. And earlier this year I reached the pinnacle of my tower-visiting career by spending time in the tower at Oshkosh during Airventure. It was amazing!

36062672_UnknownBut… there’s still that tower at work. The one I park next to every day. The one whose controllers I listen to all the time. I’ve heard them handle emergencies and bad weather and single runway ops. Heck, I’ve even spoken to them when I helped on the deice pad. I feel like I know these people! I’m their biggest fan! And yet, this tower has remained out of reach…

UNTIL NOW!

Oh yes, you read that correctly! I FINALLY got inside the tower and let me tell you – it was AWESOME! Ready for pics? OK, here you go!

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Yeah, that’s it. Sorry. We weren’t allowed to take photos. We weren’t even allowed to have our phones on. So the pics in this post are from other towers. You’ll still get an idea of what it was like though.

Enlight38 (1)First stop was the cab. Wow. Just… wow! No other way to describe it! The view was spectacular. The planes look so small from up there! Getting to see the airport from that vantage point was both incredible and informative. For example, I learned that the tower does not have a good view of the deice pad because it is hidden by the terminal building. I didn’t realize that before.

The flight activity was fairly light during our visit, however the airport was on single-runway ops at the time, which is always fun to watch. We got an overview of the different tower positions, then we got to chat with the clearance controller for a bit who told us about the position and what it does. He showed us the flight strips and explained how to read them. I noticed that the “Bird Stike” box on his computer screen was lit up red. He said there had been a bird strike earlier that morning. (It is migration season so there is increased bird activity right now.)

FullSizeRender (87)All too soon our cab visit ended and as you might expect, I REALLY didn’t want to leave. I was prepared with a whole list of reasons why they should let me stay:

  • I’ll wash the windows
  • I’ll fetch coffee and snacks
  • I won’t get in the way
  • I promise not to unplug anything

However, before I could start begging and pleading, the ATC folks quite wisely tempted me with an offer I couldn’t refuse: a visit to the radar room. Sweet! I’ve always wanted to visit a TRACON!

IMG_2256The first thing I noticed when I entered the room was that it is dark. Really dark. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust. When they did, I saw lots of computer stations. The controllers who work here not only handle approach and departure for my airport, but they handle all the traffic below 10,000 feet for most of the state. (There apparently used to be two TRACONS that got combined into one, which is why they cover so much territory.)

We got to spend time with two controllers who were handling the airspace right around the airport. Their manager explained what they were doing and helped us to understand the information on the radar screens. One of the controllers got a call from the tower at the cargo airport with a heads up that two military tankers were about to take off. Sure enough they popped up onto the screen a few moments later. I was a bit alarmed to see that their targets were both flashing red. The controller explained that flashing red means the airplanes are too close together. If they had been civilian flights then he would have had to act quickly to separate them. However, military flights handle their own separation, so in this case it was OK.

IMG_8431There was definitely a different vibe in the TRACON vs. the cab.  In the TRACON the focus is entirely on the computer screens. The controllers have a lot of airspace to manage and the atmosphere felt a little more intense.  In the cab the focus is on the world outside the windows. The most important thing, however, is how it all fits together to keep things running smoothly and safely.

I would have happily stayed all day, but after a few more minutes it was time for us to go. Wow! What an epic visit! I still gaze longingly up at the tower, but now it’s with a better understanding of what’s going on in there. Oh – and the window washing and snacks thing? I’m still available. Any time. Seriously.

 

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